Boston leaders unlock the potential of social journalism

Social media has been a game changer for journalism, upending the traditional top-down flow of information from reporters to readers that the news industry has functioned by for the past century.

The democratization of journalism has empowered news consumers to find and broadcast information themselves. Armed with a smartphone, any person can instantly upload vital and relevant information from any corner of the world. A news story today can unfold without the participation or leadership of a single journalist. We saw this in Ferguson, Missouri, when residents of the Park Ridge Apartments tweeted video during and after the confrontation between Michael Brown and police officer Darren Wilson.

So where does that leave journalists? Even though reporters have been stripped of their traditional role as broadcaster and sole source of information, they now have an astonishing host of new tools at their disposal to produce better journalism than ever before.

Many journalists in Boston have realized the groundbreaking potential that lies in social media, and their work reflects this. Here I interview three people who are using social media to advance their goals.

  • Adam Reilly, a political reporter for Greater Boston and WGBH News, first used Twitter to live-tweet the trial of Whitey Bulger. He says that Twitter has made his reporting more transparent and responsive.
  • Adam Gaffin is the founder and editor of UniversalHub, and finds most of his stories from his Twitter followers. He has learned how to set up advanced filters in order to find the latest updates in a specific location in Boston.
  • Lindsay Crudele manages the City of Boston’s social media strategy and has pioneered an efficient and reactive system across more than 51 departments, reaching more than 1.5 million total followers. Under her leadership, @NotifyBoston has turned into an essential source for breaking news, the OneBoston Tumblr became an home for messages of resilience after the Boston Marathon bombings, and campaigns like #SpotHoles have improved the quality of life in the city.

Crudele’s teams provide accurate and verified information to the public, yet she agrees that there remains a difference between the City of Boston’s social media presence and true journalism.

The example of the City of Boston’s social media efforts proves that the role of the journalist is not lost. While the city is providing an important public service, there is still a need for journalists to apply a critical eye to the information that comes across these official social channels.


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